Towing the IJmuiden lock gates

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The lock gates arrived at the port of Amsterdam at the beginning of this year and the completion work is now in full swing. After completion, a testing period will be run at OpenIJ Logistics Centre in Amsterdam. Then the gates will be transported back to IJmuiden where they will be manoeuvred into place in the lock gate chamber of the inner head. The gate for the lock gate chamber of the outer head is already in IJmuiden where it has been moored inside part of the future lock chamber in a section that has already been dredged. This lock gate will be completed on-site and then manoeuvred into place in the outer head. In January, tug master Marcel van Peenen was the one who towed one of the enormous lock gates from Rotterdam to IJmuiden, his home port. ‘This is a beautiful story not only for now but also for later generations.’

 ‘It felt great that – as an IJmuidener – I was able to participate in this gigantic and prestigious project, the construction of the largest lock in the world. It is one of the most talked-about projects and now I was going to tow one of the imposing lock gates for the new IJmuiden sea lock! Yes, this is a great story not only for now but also for later generations.’ Tug master Marcel van Peenen of Port Towage Amsterdam was proud to tell us the story of how his tug Telstar together with another tug towed the last of the three Iock gates for the new sea lock from Rotterdam to IJmuiden.

Very carefully

‘We had to do the towage job very carefully’, Van Peenen continued his story, ‘like a specialised removal company handling a very fragile object. We left Rotterdam on 23 January. The towage transport of the second lock gate left at the same time. The weather was very calm; wind Beaufort 3, and waves of not more than 50 centimetres. Although we had the tide with us, we were doing not more than 3 knots (5.5 km/h). That was because this big colossus lock gate was a heavy, unwieldy tow. After arrival at the IJmuiden roads, we had to stay outside for 24 hours waiting for High Water Slack to enter IJmuiden. That is why our arrival was much later than that of the second lock gate.’

Well prepared

‘Of course I would have preferred to tow the first lock gate,’ Van Peenen admitted. ‘Because the first of three transports usually gets much more attention. On the other hand, being the last transport, we had the advantage that we could seek information from our colleagues about their experiences with the first lock gate. We were also well prepared for this sea voyage, had more crew members on board than during a normal port towage, and had made extra time to discuss all the arrangements. We knew where and how to connect the towing lines and had taken the necessary extra equipment on board. Before departure, an independent surveyor checked the seaworthiness and a towmaster from OpenIJ – who is responsible for the entire towage project – kept an eye on everything.’

Towing and steering

The lock gate was towed by two tugs. The ‘leading tug’ was secured forward, doing the actual towing work. Telstar was secured aft to make steering adjustments when necessary. Van Peenen explained, 'The last part of the voyage – the passage through the IJmuiden North Lock – was the most difficult one. Because local knowledge was required for lock passage, a local tug had to take the position of the leading tug. We sailed from Rotterdam to IJmuiden with a tug from Dordrecht, but once inside the IJmuiden breakwaters our colleagues from Iskes took over and Brent became the leading tug.'

The final stretch

The shape of the lock gate made it even more difficult to pass through the lock. Van Peenen explained: 'When towing an unmanned ship or a barge, a special mooring crew will be put on board the tow prior to berthing. But it was not possible to put a mooring crew on the lock gate. So once inside the lock, we had to bring the lock gate to a standstill and keep it in position. As a stern tug we had to take more initiative to keep the lock gate in the middle of the lock. Thanks to good preparation and cooperation with the pilot this last part also was successful and the lock gate was brought safely to its temporary position.’